In this village in the Welsh valleys a group of three children are returning home from school: brother and sister Steve (Toby Bridge) and Maureen (Jayne Collins), plus Steve's best friend Paul (Andrew Ashby) who tries to keep him in line, and recently has been failing. Take now, when Steve notices a telephone box has been vandalised and takes it upon himself to make matters worse by opening it up and helping himself to the coins inside - as the local policeman witnesses. He is in deep trouble, and his father (John Barcroft) who works at the local power station gives him hell when he gets back, especially when it looks like charges will be brought. But this is nothing compared with what happens next...
One Hour to Zero was a Children's Film Foundation production which eschewed humour for a far more serious tone, as befitting a story which appeared to be building up to a dramatic, even disastrous, finale. In some ways it might have been more fitting to have been made in the following decade where the worries of nuclear power were inescapably in the minds of every child, though that was mostly because of the threat of World War III apparently on the horizon, but this little item proved such worries were present in the previous decade as well, and had never really gone away since the atom was split back in the nineteen-forties. Interestingly, we were never told the nature of the station.
Though we could take a very good guess at its actual provenance, and also that the station where they filmed on location was reluctant to be identified as dangerous in that era of controversy over Windscale power station not so long ago in the public memory, if not the kids who this was aimed at. What happened to Steve and Paul was that they ended up isolated and alone when the former ran away from home and the latter chased after him to bring him back, initially squabbling in a slate quarry cave over the best course of action. Once Steve has been persuaded there is a better way to sort out the differences with his father, they do return to their street, but what's this? Where on Earth has everyone gone?
Although the two boys do not twig straight away, we can tell that because of a potential meltdown at the station that the village has been evacuated and there is nobody around to rescue them - well, almost nobody. Dudley Sutton is there, but he has no inclination to save anyone’s skin but his own since he has robbed the local bank and the kids know about it, therefore must be silenced. Quite a lot to pack into fifty-five minutes, then, and director Jeremy Summers made excellent use of the Welsh countryside with many picturesque shots contrasting with the grim quarry as the characters ran around it in various states of panic. You had to assume there was no way the film would blow everyone up at the end, but nevertheless it did make a good try at the semblance of the whole affair being touch and go for almost the entire running time, and it never resorted to anyone falling into water, a sign this was just that bit more mature than your average C.F.F. effort. Music by Anthony Isaac.
[The BFI have released the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box, which includes the following films:
Also included are a special feature length documentary The Children's Film Foundation Story, an interview with Veteran CFF writer John Tully, a booklet, and three shorts from the 1950s, all with heroic hounds.]